To get ready for Valentine’s Day, we asked some husband-wife chef and restaurant management duos to share their romantic stories: how they met, what they like to cook to celebrate the holiday and whether their restaurants go all out in the name of love.
Written by Tiffany MacIsaac, Executive Pastry Chef of the Washington D.C.-based Neighborhood Restaurant Group. Her husband, Kyle Bailey, is the Executive Chef of Birch & Barley, one of NRG’s popular restaurants featuring a seasonally inspired menu and an extensive (read: 500+) list of beers.
Kyle and I met at the since-shuttered Ilo, a three-star restaurant located in a NYC hotel. At the time we were both in relationships, but we became fast friends. One night a week, Kyle would need to stay to work the room service shift after dinner. No one ever ordered, though, so we would get a pack of beer from the corner store and drink it while we waited. A closing restaurant can be a depressing environment to work in, but we always worked hard and pushed one another. After the restaurant closed, we went our separate ways, but we stayed in touch. When Kyle was working at another restaurant, Cru, he recommended me for a pastry chef position (even though his girlfriend at the time was a pastry chef) and the rest is history.
Being married (going on 3.5 years now) and working together presents its challenges, but we overcome these by being very communicative. (Kyle likens us to Dr. Dre and Eminem: “We fight nonstop, but we get along better than anyone else.”) We’re incredibly honest with each other in the kitchen and never hold back on giving feedback about a certain dish – we’re both striving for greatness.
Years and a few restaurants later, we have spent many Valentine’s Days together, but not in the traditional sense. Being in the hospitality business (especially restaurants) means you’re all about making the day special for your guests. A lot of people put pressure on this day, and we want to make sure diners walk away feeling as though they’ve had a memorable experience. At Birch & Barley, we add some luxurious ingredients to the menu, like foie gras, oysters or truffles. Kyle almost always offers an oyster dish and one of my favorites is Oysters with Green Apple Mignonette (recipe below). He makes sure to send a few my way before or after service as a special treat. The Valentine’s Day menu always ends on a special sweet note with something like cake truffles, macarons or red-hot ice cream.
After the long day, we usually stop and pick up something simple on the way home. It’s become our weird little Valentine’s Day tradition to swing by WaWa – Kyle grew up in Pennsylvania and loves their Italian hoagie – and grab a sandwich. Once we are home, we end the evening with a nightcap by the fire. We stock our home bar seasonally; this past year, we had deemed autumn rye month, and we loved it so much we decided to keep it throughout the winter. Right now we love a punch called Mr. Flakey’s Pinecone (recipe below). This year, I imagine we’ll make a large batch of it, fill up a pitcher and relax in front of our fireplace while we unwind together.
Recipes courtesy Tiffany MacIsaac and Kyle Bailey
Oysters & Green Apple Mignonette
2 dozen oysters, shucked
1/2 cup fresh green apple juice
1.5 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
Pinch black pepper
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
1/4 cup finely diced peeled green apples
1 tablespoon minced shallots
4 stems of chive (cut into 1/2″ batons)
3 English breakfast radishes cut into thin slices
24 pickled onion, thinly sliced
Combine apple juice with lemon juice, vinegar, salt, pepper, olive oil, green apples and shallots. Allow to sit, cold, for 30 minutes.
Mr. Flakey’s Pinecone
1 1/4 cups old Old Overholt Rye
2 cups apple cider
1/2 cup Domaine de Canton
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
4 to 5 cinnamon sticks
Combine ingredients in a large pitcher or punch bowl.
Allow the cinnamon to infuse while you light a fire (or five minutes, if you don’t have a fireplace).
Pour over ice.
Place shucked oysters on top of crushed ice. Top with mignonette and garnish each oyster with a piece of chive, a slice of radish and a sliver of pickled onion. Enjoy immediately.
Want more ideas for your Valentine’s Day celebration? Get recipes and inspiration from Cooking Channel.
Click here to read more Love in the Kitchen stories from chefs and restaurant management couples.